The movie “Hoosiers” gave us one of the best lines in sports movie history when the crotchety old Hickory fan Opal Fleener said to coach Norman Dale, “Sun don’t shine on the same dog’s [behind] every day, but mister, you ain’t seen a ray of light since you got here.”
For Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, who has seen plenty of light in his days in Burlington (a Frozen Four appearance stands out), the past year may have made him feel like Coach Dale.
After a miserable season that saw the Catamounts win just six games, hopes were high in Vermont with NHL first-round draft pick Zemgus Girgensons committed to arrive this September.
Sneddon trekked to the NHL Entry Draft to be with his star recruit and his family. But in the end, the NHL was too tempting for the 18-year-old Latvian-born player and he signed with the Buffalo Sabres.
Later in the summer, longtime associate head coach John Micheletto decided he would leave town to take the vacant Massachusetts job, taking along with him assistant coach Joey Gasparini and head of hockey operations John Gobeil.
Sneddon, however, is hardly one to dwell. Thus, heading into the 2012-13 season, the veteran bench boss is optimistic about his program’s fresh start.
“Actually, I thought it was a great offseason for us,” a positive-thinking Sneddon said. “The players, the coaching staff all got on the same page, created some core values to get us back on track.
“I think I have a tremendous staff in Kevin Patrick, Kyle Wallack and Mike Monti. Through the difficult times, in losing Girgensons and losing [junior Sebastian] Stålberg [to the NHL], I think we have a strong nucleus to get the program going.”
Much of that nucleus could be built around a few key players, two of whom missed significant time last year with injuries. Forwards Chris McCarthy and Connor Brickley both return healthy and could play major roles in the offense along with sophomore Kyle Reynolds, who potted 23 points in his freshman campaign.
“A big part is just getting the guys healthy,” Sneddon said. “There were a lot of guys who were on the shelf last year.”
If there is one area that is a question mark, though, it is goaltending. Vermont graduated Rob Madore, arguably one of the most talented netminders that the program has seen. John Vazzano, who started just one game last year, will be joined in net by rookies Billy Faust and Brody Hoffman.
Sneddon said he’s happy with his team’s offseason strength and conditioning, spurred on by strength coach Justin Smith, who joined the staff halfway through last season. Smith developed a workout regimen that Sneddon hopes improves his team’s overall strength and stamina.
“The players just looked different,” Sneddon said. “We’re going to be able to play a much grittier style than last year.”
At the end of the day, though, Sneddon doesn’t see any one position needing improvement. Rather, he believes that each player has to show a level of commitment that was missing a year ago.
“A lot of it is just a stronger commitment to the team,” Sneddon said. “The team comes first.”
About the Catamounts
2011-12 overall record: 6-27-1
2011-12 Hockey East record: 3-23-1 (10th)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: 10th; Dave: 10th
Key losses: G Rob Madore, D Drew MacKenzie, F Sebastian Stålberg
Players to watch: F Kyle Reynolds, F Connor Brickley, D Nick Bruneteau
Impact rookie: G Brody Hoffman
Why the Catamounts will finish higher than predicted: There are simply so many unknowns. Will the rookie class, particularly in goal, have an immediate impact? Will a healthy Connor Brickley be the standout player many think he can be? Will a new support staff for Kevin Sneddon make a major difference? Answer yes to a few of these and Vermont could get back to dominance.
Why the Catamounts will finish lower than predicted: Similar to BC at the top, you can’t get lower than the cellar.